Back when I was practicing law in Wichita Falls, Texas, a divorce client of mine described her husband thusly:
That man is useless as tits on a boar hog.
She didn’t say it to be funny. She just talked like that.
Now much as I’d like to work that phrase into conversation — I can think of a number of people who fit that description — it would be obvious that I was saying it on purpose to get a laugh. I can talk Texan, but that particular expression would still sound wrong coming from me.
Besides I’d probably have to explain it to city folk who don’t know “boar” is the term for a male hog. (Also a male raccoon, btw.)
Explaining the context is one of the problems with an expression I do use regularly when another driver does something stupid on the highway:
Where’d you get your driver’s license, Sears and Roebuck?
To understand that line, you have to know that Sears was once Sears and Roebuck, and that even if you lived 100 miles from the nearest wide place in the road (an expression meaning a place with a gas station, grocery store, maybe a post office, and not much else) you could order anything anyone could possibly need out of the Sears and Roebuck catalog. Including, at one point, a house to put it all in.
It also helps to know that there was a time when you didn’t have to take a test for a driver’s license.
Now I remember the Sears catalog, even though we lived outside of Houston and did most of our shopping in stores. I don’t remember the time before driving tests — in fact, I remember taking driver’s ed in school in preparation for mine — but I know my father never had to take one.
I suspect that expression doesn’t make any sense to people who do all their mail order business online. The world has shifted. It still expresses my feelings for those drivers, though.
Another expression I actually use depends on an understanding of the cultural difference between New York and Texas (though with the rapid urban growth in Texas, that cultural difference is more myth than reality these days). Talking of something that is about to happen very quickly, one says:
In a New York minute.
Believe me, a New York minute is much less than 60 seconds long. In fact, I once found a great definition of it: a New York minute is the period of time between the moment the light turns green and the first car behind you honks.
There’s another expression from my Wichita Falls days that I wish I could work into conversation, one that explains why it gets so damned cold there:
There’s nothin’ between here and the North Pole ‘cept a barbed-wire fence, and it’s usually down.
Anyone who has ever lived on the Great Plains knows what I mean: the north wind just comes whipping down, and even as far south as Wichita Falls, it chills your bones.
And obviously a barbed-wire fence (I was in college before I realized it was “barbed-wire,” not “bob-wire,” which is how it’s said) is not much protection even when it isn’t down.
It’s an extremely accurate description.
I saw another great expression the other day on the World’s Most Dangerous Beauty Salon, a professional political organization that demonstrates the humor necessary to survive as a Texas liberal:
In truth, he got beat so badly that he has to unzip his pants to see out.
(This was said about Rick Perry’s debate performances. You can read the whole thing here.)
I may be able to figure out a way to work that one into conversation. Though Juanita Jean, proprietor of the Beauty Salon, did point out in an earlier post that at least one editor didn’t understand it. Seems to me the meaning is obvious.
Colorful expressions aren’t limited to Texas or even the South. In fact, my favorite insult is French:
Comment va Mademoiselle votre mere?
Which sounds like a polite way of asking someone how their mother is, except for that devastating “Mademoiselle” in there. It’s such a nice way to call someone a bastard. (And yeah, I know there are some missing accents in there, but I’m too lazy to put them in and anyway I always had trouble in French class remembering which ones went where.)
So what are some of your favorite expressions, dated or not, in English or otherwise? I’d like to expand my collection and maybe find a few more I can use.
Flashes of Illumination, a collection of my short-short fiction, is now available here from Book View Cafe. This 52-story ebook collects the flash fiction I published weekly during the first year of Book View Cafe, and adds in a few later stories as well.
My novella Changeling remains available as an ebook through Book View Cafe. It’s a coming of age story.
Both books are $2.99 and available in four DRM-free formats: mobi, epub, prc, and pdf.